Sharp-shooting Sykora forever tinkering with stick
Oilers aim to turn the winger with the deadly shot into a faceoff specialist
Joanne Ireland, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Thursday, September 21, 2006
EDMONTON - A day seldom goes by without Petr Sykora calling his stick rep at Easton. And when he isn't on the phone discussing subtle adjustments, he's tinkering with his weapon.
He calls it a hobby.
Others call it time well spent.
"I tried to block his shot twice today in practice, and twice it went right by me," said Oilers rookie defenceman Tom Gilbert. "He is so accurate."
But these days, the man with the wicked snapshot is even more concerned with the flex of his shaft, which means more calls and more tinkering because what worked on the wing isn't working in the faceoff circle.
The curve of his blade may very well be where his focus shifts next.
"Every day I try to make it either shorter or longer or do something new," Sykora said after Wednesday's practice at Rexall Place. "But I'm going to play the exhibition games and see how it goes. I'll try some new things -- I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do -- but you can't change it drastically. I'll make a little adjustment, see how it goes, and go from there.
"The only time I changed my curve was when I started playing on the wing, which was probably back in 1997. I had a really straight stick when I played centre before."
If Sykora can improve his work on the dot, reverting to those days when he did play centre, all four Oilers lines will be set down the middle.
Shawn Horcoff, Sykora, Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner will be the centremen to start the new season. That means Sykora will have to be better than he was on Tuesday. In his first pre-season game, he won four faceoffs and lost seven.
"That's not good enough," he said. "If I can be around 50 per cent that will be good, and I am going to work on it."
Head coach Craig MacTavish didn't throw out a number, but did say 30 per cent would be too much of a shortcoming to overcome.
"That's still a work in progress," MacTavish said, "but I wanted to play him at centre through training camp because ideally, that's where he fits in best on our team. We can always get a centreman out there to help him on defensive zone faceoffs, as I often do. So we have that option.
"But it's hard to take a mediocre faceoff guy and turn him into a good faceoff guy. It's a combination of a lot of physical attributes and a lot of times you either have it or you don't. He's certainly got the savvy and the guile to come up with the techniques that can give him an advantage. It is going to be an issue and we have to overcome it.
"I think we're capable of doing that."
What isn't in question is the chemistry between Sykora and Ales Hemsky, whose shot is also right on target.
"I'm going to try not to be scared, because he's got an accurate shot. I think he knows where the puck is going," said the still-toothless Ryan Smyth, who will be parked by the net on the power play.
Goaltender Dwayne Roloson has said it's only going to help his game because he'll get to see it at practice every day. The two have already talked about working together after practices as well.
Sykora has said he'll lean on Roloson for scouting reports on the opposing goaltenders.
"It doesn't matter what kind of pass he's getting, he's getting a good shot off," Roloson said.
"Then it's not just his release but how hard it's coming. It's a deadly shot."
Sykora zeroed in on his one-timer when he was moved from centre to wing, and therein began this obession with his stick -- a custom-made 85 Flex. And he now has a shot that he can release from anywhere on the ice.
"It's like a slingshot out there," said Stoll, who has some shooting ability of his own. "He uses a pretty whippy stick and he gets it off pretty quick. He doesn't need much time.
"I haven't seen his backhand yet but I'm sure it's hard too."
"You have to work on it all the time," Sykora said. "You have to find what works for you and I'm probably on the phone with Easton every day trying to maximize whatever power I have. To be honest with you, I've always tried to get my sticks to be as good as possible.
"And I always work on my shot after practice. It's like I still feel like a kid going out there and trying to score the goals."
I feel like this article is an invasion of his privacy...